by Annabelle Lukin, Associate Professor, Linguistics
To change collective attitudes to the climate crisis, we have to change people’s language.
This is not easy – most of the time we don’t stop and think about how to say something. We now need a massive conscious effort to change public discourse about global warming.
Here’s three things to pay attention to in your own language:
1. What’s the problem?
Typical answer: climate change
What’s wrong with this: it’s not very specific, and so it doesn’t feel urgent. Also, it’s not the root cause, it’s actually the effect. The climate is changing – getting more extreme and dangerous – because we are heating the planet.
What to say instead: global warming, global heating, extreme weather, warming climate
2. What’s the key factor?
Typical answer: carbon emissions
What’s wrong with this: When we say ‘carbon emissions’, we are not acknowledging that we are destroying our enviroment. To ‘emit’ doesn’t seem like a dangerous thing to do. The phrase ‘carbon emissions’ has created the fantasy that greenhouse gases are floating out there somewhere, without directly polluting our land, ocean and air.
What to say instead: carbon pollution, carbon pollution levels, greenhouse gas pollution, zero carbon pollution, zero polluting energy, zero pollution economy
3. Who’s responsible?
Typical answer: climate deniers, climate skeptics, fossil fuel industry
What’s wrong with this: to be skeptical is not a bad thing. And ‘climate denier’ continues to link global warming to the supposed ‘debate’
The dirty fuel magnates and their lackeys have invented many insults to delegitimise pro-planet scientists and campaigners. They’ve called us “climate zealots”, “climate alarmists”, “climate evangelists”, “climate crazies” “raving inner-city lunatics”, “woke capital-city greenies” and the “anti-fossil fuel brigade”.
A conservative male politician in Canada even called the Canadian Minister for Environment and Climate Change “climate Barbie”.
What to say instead: climate predators, climate warmers, climate criminals, planet polluters, the dirty fuel industry.
Remember: FOSSIL FUELS ARE DIRTY FUELS
Change your language behaviour – and correct your friends, family and colleagues on theirs.
Once we get a critical mass of people using pro-planet language, we will get the political will we need for change.